By Matt Mackinder
After starting the season with the NAHL’s Austin Bruins, Connor McGovern played the last seven games with the Flint Jr. Generals, but that’s apparently all it took for another NAHL team to give the 19-year-old Minnesota native another crack at showing he belongs in the league as the Kenai River Brown Bears made a deal to get McGovern and he will suit up this weekend.
It’s all been a whirlwind, according to McGovern, who leaves from his hometown of Eagan, Minn., for Alaska on Tuesday.
“To be honest, I am not quite sure how the opportunity presented itself to me, but I think that Kenai River saw that I wasn't on the Austin Bruins’ roster anymore, so (Kenai River coach) Oliver David called (Flint coach) Steve Howard and asked if I would be interested in going to Kenai,” explained McGovern. “When I was released from Austin, I called my dad and talked to him about my situation. Then a day later, I communicated with Jason Berg, who runs FHIT Hockey, where I have been skating since I was a young kid. I was later called by coach Howard, who was a former hockey instructor and scout for FHIT Hockey.
“Coach Howard got me excited about the opportunity to play for the Flint Jr. Generals and I was really pumped to be playing hockey again after being released just four days before.”
Going to Flint was in hindsight, a smart decision for McGovern on a number of levels.
“Flint really helped me gain back my confidence because of the way coach Howard developed practices,” said the 6-foot, 185-pound defenseman. “They fit my style of play really well, which would continue into games. The team accepted me into the locker room and made it really fun for me. The short time that I was in Flint still seemed to me as if I was a part of the Flint Jr. Generals’ family. That group of guys will always be a part of me and who I am as a person. I really enjoyed playing for a team with so much heart and such great leaders.”
Going for a stint in the NA3HL was not a demotion by any stretch of the mind, said McGovern, and he thinks the NAPHL/NA3HL/NAHL process is one that works.
“I feel like it is very beneficial to players who are developing their game so they can play at the level that best suits them,” McGovern said. “I never got to play in the NAPHL, but I know there is good talent in the NA3HL that might have been overlooked for whatever reason. Being under the same umbrella, it can give players a great opportunity to move up or even the opportunity to play at a good college level after the NA3HL. I believe that there are a lot of players who can be playing at different junior levels such as the NAHL or the USHL.”
Once he arrives in Kenai River, McGovern has every intention of staying there the rest of the season. It’s hard to argue with his game plan.
“I plan to work hard every day and to learn their concepts, systems and style of play,” said McGovern. “I want to play loose and play the style of play that makes me the player that I am. I believe that hockey players play their best in the right environment where they feel comfortable and able to have fun while working hard at the same time, which ends up allowing them to play at their best. I hope that Kenai is the best fit for me.
“I hope to establish myself as an everyday player that the team can rely on. I want to become a better hockey player and work hard with the team. I know I am going to have to keep working hard to earn my stripes back to play in the NAHL. I expect to listen to the coaching staff during practice and bring their suggestions to the games.”